Early Tacoma Bahá’ís – Jo Sand

Image courtesy of Médiathèque Baha’ie Francophone  http://www.bahai-biblio.org


Bahá’í Teacher of Unity


Prehistory – A Farmer’s Compassion


The ancestors of Jo Sand’s maternal grandmother were Cherokee refugees traveling on the northern stream of Indian families on the Trail of Tears. As they passed through southern Illinois in the winter, many had already died from disease, exhaustion, and the cold.     


No one would let them rest on their journey, but drove them further along until one farmer near Marion took pity on them and allowed them to winter over on his farm, providing food, clothing and shelter. I was told that his name was Hubbard, and some took his name as a tribute to his merciful generosity.


Jo Sand was born Jo Ann Hubbard on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1933, in St. Louis, Missouri. 


Early years – Grandmother Hubbard


When Jo was an infant, her vision was precarious – her grandmother was told that the baby would soon be blind. Her grandmother applied a salve from an Indian remedy directly to the infant’s eyes, and it saved her vision, though her eyesight remained extremely poor in her life.


Her mother returned to New Orleans, and Jo was raised by her grandmother and aged grandfather. Jo said that the strength of character, faith, and guidance of her grandmother was the inspiration of her life, and learned her silent faith in God’s provision and service to the unfortunate and the poor from Grandmother Hubbard.


Growing Up 


Her father was Jewish, but she saw him only once- when she was ten years old.


When her grandmother died, her mother raised her for a few years until Jo was fifteen years old.




Jo moved to Tacoma where she met and married a man named William van Buskirk, with whom she had her only child. Jo was soon left to raise her daughter, Kristine Lee, by herself. She earned enough money working as a bookkeeper to buy a small house on Cushman Avenue in Tacoma, and took courses at the University of Puget Sound.   


She subsequently married Ray Sand, and moved to Raymond, Washington. No children came from that marriage, and she moved back to Tacoma.


Community Action- MDC and Indian School


Jo went to work about 1967 at the local Community Action Agency in Tacoma, a part of President Johnson’s War on Poverty. The local, anti-poverty agency was then called Opportunity & Development Inc. (ODI), and was later reorganized as Metropolitan Development Council, directed by the brilliant William Seline. As its Finance Officer, she had a fundamental influence on the success of the agency and was responsible for not only its financial management and planning, but was instrumental in the conception, development, and operations management of the large number of anti-poverty and training projects of MDC. Many of them were pilot programs unique in the state or the nation, which became models for similar projects around the country, and were spun off into the community to become independent organizations contributing to the life and welfare of the area: Indian School, Gypsy Education, Law & Justice, Communications and Journalism, Infant Nutrition, Drug Addiction Treatment, Displaced Homemakers, Hispanic Employment and Education, Asian Community Services, Family Counseling… the list goes on and on. Her long-time boss and friend, Linsey Hinand, said, simply, “She was a genius.”


She was a natural teacher, and throughout her short life, trained and educated a large number of people in classrooms, workshops and seminars, and in small groups and individually. She seemed dedicated to promoting every good thing but herself.


One of her loves was Indian Teaching, and she was the primary grant planner for the original project that established the Tacoma Indian School Education Grant at the old Hawthorne school. She left MDC to devote more time to the Puyallup Tribe’s Indian School, and was working alone there late one night on her own time when she began to have a heart attack.




Jo Sand became a Bahá’í in Tacoma, and served on its local Spiritual Assembly and on many committees and teaching projects.


Personal Benevolence


Jo Sand was an extraordinary person. I never knew her to work at only one job for long – she usually worked at two or more jobs. I once even estimated a year’s contribution in off-duty personal time to MDC alone, and was stupefied by the total. She worked late into the night on her own time on an endless variety of projects, and taught innumerable groups financial management, grant writing, and project planning. She gave her personal time to individuals to teach them planning, accounting, teaching English to refugees, and she helped people obtain their citizenship, get jobs, and buy their first homes.


She sponsored two Laotian refugees, and adopted the younger one, Tong Chanh, who later took the name, Mark Sand, in her honor.


And that was only some of those cases I knew about. She had asked me to be the Executor of her will, and in examining her papers, I discovered further evidence of a lifetime of throwing herself into perpetual service – letters thanking her for this or that help and assistance getting into school, jobs, counseling, services, and direction. She gave her money, her time, her energy, her talent, her knowledge and wisdom, and, ultimately, her life in service. I found a letter and a photograph of a 12 year old girl in India for whom she had been the principal support for years. I wrote to the last known address to tell the sad news. 




Jo drove herself to the hospital when she began to have pains over her chest, and was placed immediately in Intensive Care.


I had been helping her work on a transportation planning project for Indian School at her house on Thursday, and promised to come back the next day to complete it. When I arrived at her home, she was not there, but she called later saying that she was in the hospital. When I got there, she was resting, so I didn’t wake her, but went to see her that evening. It was clear that she was in grave danger, and her life support and cardiac monitoring machines would go wild whenever she spoke or raised her arm. We went home, and received the call from her daughter that she had passed from this world about an hour after midnight, nine days after her 45th birthday.


The multitude of people who attended her funeral was an astonishing mix of humanity: there were people of every color and ethnic background. Every age, economic, educational and religious group seemed to be represented. The most striking thing about that human concourse was that every single person attending had come because she had done something directly for every one of them to make each of their lives better – they stood up spontaneously and recounted one after another, weeping unashamedly, of the difference that she had made in their lives.


Her mortal remains rest in the Old Tacoma Cemetery. The bronze plaque over her grave at the foot of a great oak says,


                                                                                              Jo Sand

                                                                               Bahá’í Teacher of Unity





Prepared by Loyd Myatt


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